DM 101: Make the Message Matter

A bad attitude may work, sometimes, if you are a blues' master. Not so much of you are an advertiser.

I am almost certain we have all seen some variation of this commercial – you know the one – that funny one … you know … the one where that guy does something really funny and then the girl … oh! … then the girl says something even funnier!  It’s hilarious, right?  And then, about twenty seconds after the commercial ends you think to yourself … that was really funny, that commercial for … for … who was that for?

Television commercials ain’t cheap, my fellow Awesome Direct Marketers, and one has to wonder about the prudence of spending however much that much is in order to merely entertain the viewer.

It could be worse, of course.  A company could spend a lot of money creating a commercial that left a negative image of the product for the viewer.  Think about those commercials for that pizza delivery company where they talk about how bad everyone’s cheesey breadsticks are … including … their own!  Sure, they spend the last part of the commercial telling us how they have since improved their product.  But, what’s the takeaway?  “Try our new breadsticks – they’re not nearly as awful as they used to be!” Seriously?!!

But, give the pizza guys credit – they tear themselves down and then at least try to build themselves back up for the viewer.  At least they didn’t do this:

This album cover hurt sales of the album. In other news, smashing your left hand with a sledgehammer hurts your left hand. Badly.

This album has become something of a classic in the forty-four years since its release … but, I say something of a classic because … well … there might have been a good reason why Howlin’ Wolf didn’t like it.  Either way, though, Chess Records was in the business of selling records and this didn’t help.  According to Marshall Chess, “I used negativity in the title, and it was a big lesson: You can’t say on the cover that the artist didn’t like the album. It didn’t really sell that well. But it was just an attempt. They were just experiments.”

Fair enough.  He says “experiments” and we direct marketers would say “tests.”  But, please, Awesome Direct Marketers, let Marshall Chess take one for the team and accept that telling people your product stinks is not a sound strategy.

The only message that matters is your product, your company, your service … and how it will benefit the person viewing your ad.  It’s that simple.  Customers don’t care if you (or your agency) are witty.  They don’t care if you feel guilty because your product used to be crappy.  All they want to know is that your product (service, whatever …) is going to make their life easier, greater, sexier … something!  That’s the message.  It matters!

Posted in direct mail, direct marketing, general | 1 Comment

50 Cents at a Time and the Science Teacher’s Son

We have been thrilled and touched by the generosity of our clients.  At the beginning of the year we made a promise to help save the world (or, at the least, save some little parts of our world) 50 Cents at a Time.

So far this year we have supported a local homeless shelter, a foundation supporting research to find a cure for childhood cancer and a foundation supporting research to find a cure for diabetes.

When we first wrote about this back in January we started with three organizations and decided we’d add more as the year progressed.  Things at the office got very busy (which is a great thing), and all of a sudden, the first quarter ended and and we still needed to add a few more worthy organizations for the second quarter.

Right now I’d only like to talk about one:  The Melissa Jenkins Memorial Trust.

There’s no easy way around this one.  Melissa Jenkins, a local high school science teacher, was murdered early last week and she leaves behind a two year old son.

Community members have set up a trust fund for Melissa’s son, Ty, and we’ll be donating our April “50 Cents at a Time” to this Trust.  You can donate directly through the link above and, of course, you can add $.50/M to any list order you place this month.

It may seem like a little thing, but, as with any effort like this, every little bit helps.

Posted in 50 Cents at a Time Fund, Fundraising | Comments Off

Honesty … such a simple, and occassionally lonely, word

At the risk of going all Billy Joel on you ...

I came across a couple items a few days apart and, on the surface, they aren’t really related at all … one was talking about a wireless carrier putting limits on its subscribers’ unlimited usage plans and another one was about how employers and leaders can find out if employees and management share the same goals and vision.

I found the interview with Steve Stoute very interesting – all these buzzwords that one hears tossed around, like “vision” and “goals” and “communication” and such are just empty words unless the character of the individuals behind those words can give those words real meaning, real flesh and blood results, both in the business culture and at the bottom line.  He says, among other things:

Doing what you say is a core value. You can’t have people inside a company who are saying things but have no intention of doing what they say. They might have good intentions when it leaves their mouth, but that’s exactly where it ends. You have to find those people immediately, because those people hurt a growing organization.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us who have been around the business world for more than, oh, say, 38 days, have come to recognize there’s power in the words people use – both words of employee and employer, management and staff … those employers/managers whose actions match their words are more likely to have employees who buy into the vision and employees / staff whose actions match their words typically find their prospects grow along with the mutual trust that gets created when the members of a group are honest with each other.

One other point he made – his final point in the interview – is the very foundation of everything else he discussed (the goals, the vision, the whatever) and it came to this:

I’m looking to hire people who are honest with themselves. If you’re honest with yourself, we could work together. We can adjust on the go, we can call an audible at the line of scrimmage, because you’re honest with yourself. But if you’re not honest with yourself, you’re always trying to not let me find out something, or you’re trying to not let yourself find out something. You don’t want to find out from somebody else something about yourself that you don’t already know. I think that’s a very important attribute of successful people — they are honest with themselves.

I mean … this seems so basic.  Those who are honest with themselves succeed … and those who aren’t … don’t.*

*It reminds me of that line from Talking Heads’ song Life During Wartime - “I’ve changed my hairstyle sooooooo many times now … I don’t know what I look like.”  I’ve often thought folks who are not honest with themselves are more than a bit like that – after a while the lies make them unrecognizable to even themselves.

This brings me to the story about the mobile wireless carrier who put limits on its’ unlimited data plan.  Now, technically, this company is not limiting certain high volume users, just “throttling back” their speeds, which effectively limits their phones to calls and text messages.  Or, as one user observed:

The company made no promises that “unlimited” data would always be coupled with high speeds, he notes. “They just guaranteed the highway. They didn’t guarantee the speed limit.”

Fair enough.  We live in a post “it depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is” society, so, I guess, in a way, many customers have become immune to such double-thought and spin.  Or, to put it another way, most consumers expect that some companies are looking to stick it to them*.

*Now is probably a good time to mention that I am not one of this wireless company’s customers, so, this is not an “angry customer rant.”

However, when it comes to the idea of honesty, while this carrier may be well within their technical rights to treat their customers in this manner (and, one would not be too far off to think this treatment is part of a strategy to move customers away from the unlimited use plans), I have to question the cost of moving away from the spirit of their plan.  Again, while this may technically be above board, it feels dishonest.  (I have yet to see a commercial where the handsome actor or the pretty actress declares “Use our unlimited data plan, but, if you use too much we will cripple your phone for the rest of the billing cycle!” [Smiles.]  At least that would be honest.)

All of this got me to wondering – I bet there are leaders and upper-level management at this company who ask their employees and middle management to buy into their goals and values.  They probably ask their employees to communicate.  They likely talk about vision.  Yet, as Steve Stoute observed, doing what you say is a core value.

Deception makes for a poor core value.  It likely inhibits long-term health.  Honesty is simple.  It is also the easiest thing to remember and requires no spin.

What do you consider your company’s core value?

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Seneca, Lombardi, and Luck!

Vince Lombardi: Ancient Roman philosopher?

Although this post will touch briefly on the topic of football we are not discussing any sort of mock football drafts – in other words, we are not talking about Andrew Luck, the Stanford quarterback likely to be the number one pick in this year’s NFL draft.  However!  We will be talking about some other smart guys – some of whom could even have gone to a place like Stanford had they not, y’know, been born like almost two thousand years before Stanford opened its doors.

See, it occurred to me that in your travels across the web today you probably hadn’t had run across any wisdom passed down from a Roman philosopher.  Well, you are in … luck … because that’s what we’re talking about today.

And, not just any Roman philosopher, either!  We’re talking about … yes … Vince Lombardi!

Okay, not really.  We’re talking about Seneca, who lived some 1900 years before the great Packer coach, and he knew nothing of the Power Sweep.  He did, however, have a thought on the subject of luck.

Seneca supposedly said, “Luck is where the crossroads of opportunity and preparation meet.” (And, to be fair, Lombardi did say this, too … and I’m guessing most of the guys who played for him had never heard of Seneca, so it was just as well that Lombardi updated the quote for his players, though, I’m certain he led if off with “Men!” so it probably went more like this, “Men!  Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity!”)

We talked at length a couple weeks ago on about the need to give yourself time when preparing email projects.  However, preparation is more than time.  In keeping with the football analogy in honor of this weekend’s upcoming Super Bowl, think about the amount of time the average football player spends watching film, looking for the opponent’s habits and tendencies.  Think about the amount of time the players spend practicing each play and running through numerous game scenarios.  Much of their practice is repetition – repeating the same actions over-and-over until those actions become second nature.  During the game the players don’t think about their plays and responsibilities – they react.  It’s all preparation.

In Mark Bowden’s instant classic The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL, the author shared a great story of a young Raymond Berry, the Colts’ star receiver in 1958, working from sheets of notebook paper and running pass routes on a deserted football field.  He ran those routes over and over until his routes were perfect.  The author went on to describe how Berry and Johnny Unitas, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, while both were still back-ups early in their careers with the Colts, would practice together … constantly … until Unitas could throw the ball not to Berry, but to the spot where he knew Berry would be.  Later in the book, during a key moment in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, Berry makes a sensational catch that amazed those who saw it.  But, it didn’t amaze Unitas or Berry – they expected it.  Lucky?  No.  They’d practiced it until it was second nature.

By the way, at the time, that type of personal preparation on the part of NFL players was fairly revolutionary.  Today it is the standard.

Think about your daily routines.  How much preparation are you doing?  Yes, I know, we are all working hard taking care of our day-to-day priorities.  But, what about the proverbial film study and practice?

Are you studying?  Study can take many forms, of course.  From a marketing and direct marketing standpoint you can take classes – both online and at local colleges.  You can read the trades to see what other in your industry are doing.  You can attend seminars.  You can read relevant and interesting blogs (ahem).

Are you learning?  When was the last time you learned a new program or application?  A lot of us use Excel, which, much like the human brain, it seems most people only use about 10% of it – have you done anything to be able to leverage the power that program has to offer?

Are you listening?  Yeah – it sounds simple and easy, but, are you really actively listening and open to new ideas?  I know that all the awesome readers of this blog are brilliant (after all, you’re here) but, do you allow others to impart their wisdom to you?  It’s one thing to hear … it’s another to listen … and learn.

Are you repeating the same successful actions until they become second nature?  Repetition is important and repetition of the details – the little things that most people won’t see or register in the moment – are often the most important part of any task.  Do you stop what you are doing and smile when you answer the phone?  Do you spell/grammar check your documents?  Do you re-read for content and clarity?  Do you make eye contact when you speak to clients?

There’s your luck.

Seneca knew it.  Lombardi knew it.  Maybe you already knew it.  Now go get prepared and find your opportunity!

Speaking of all that – what do you do to study, learn, or be prepared?

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6 Things You Better Be Doing With Your Email Campaigns!

I’ve had a couple of experiences with some clients recently that clearly illustrated that a lot of marketers are still guessing (or worse, ignoring basic Marketing 101) when it comes to email marketing.  Rather than sit and stew about it, I’m going to share their mistakes with you, Gentle Reader, in the hopes that you will learn how to plan your next email marketing campaign effectively.

But first, I would like to remind all you awesome marketers about the late 1990s.  Remember them?  We were still trying to figure out if we needed to include that http:// thing-y when we typed in a web address.   Seinfeld was the hippest, funniest show about nothing.  Y2K made many feel slightly uneasy.  We were asked to consider what the definition of “is” was.  Every man, woman, and child in the country had received a diskette in the mail from AOL.  People knew who the Lemonheads were.  And … my favorite … the internet created a new “” economy.

The new economy was going to be different!  The new economy was going to take the Dow Jones and the NASDAQ to heights unimagined just a decade before – after all, the NASDAQ seemed like it was doubling every two months.  The new economy was awesome.  Yup.  Sure was.

Oh, sure, a couple people muttered stuff about “irrational exuberance” but, when everyone is having fun most people don’t like listening to the party poopers – especially when the guy at the next desk is telling you about how his retirement mutual fund increased 28% last quarter … again!

It was awesome … until the old economy tapped the new economy on the shoulder and reminded us all that the old rules never really go away.  The economy very quickly turned into the dot.bomb economy – any of us older than, say, 35 or so, will recall the sight of our mutual fund portfolios shrinking by a third.

The point here is the so-called old rules are the rules for a reason.

Okay, enough reminiscing – back to email marketing:

My client wanted to do a substantial, targeted email campaign.  They decided to do three rounds of emails:

Round One: Test 10 different subject lines to a couple thousand records per unique subject line.

Round Two: Test 3 different creatives to 25,000 records each, using the winning subject line from Round One.

Round Three: Do a full blast to hundreds of thousands of emails using the winning creative and the winning subject line.

On the surface this sounds like a reasonably good plan.  And, really, it is the beginnings of a good plan.  However, the client, in my humblest of opinions, made a handful of significant blunders:

  • They wanted to send Round Three on Saturday.  Okay.  This is not a bad thing, in theory.  The offer was not an impulse-y kind of thing – it was very much a family decision and the client figured the weekend was a good time for couples/partners to consider the offer and then act.  So far, so good.  However – what days did they insist we do the first two rounds?  The Tuesday and Thursday before the desired Saturday blast date.  Why didn’t they test the best day of the week to send?
  • They insisted on 24 hour rush reporting on the results.  Bad idea.  Email campaigns require at least 48 hours to get factual reports.  First, many providers resend to soft-bounces after 24 hours.  Second, in the cases of larger deployments, the blast may not even be completed within 24 hours.  (You can’t just bombard various email providers – that is a sure way to get your important promotional message blocked – nobody wants that!)  We shared our concern, but accommodated the request.
  • Round Three was deployed the first weekend of December and it was not holiday related.  Look, timing is everything.  People’s inboxes were already chock full of Black-Friday-Cyber-Monday-Super-Duper-One-Day-Discount-Holiday offers.  This one was not a December kind of promotion and likely didn’t create the same sense of urgency.
  • Their offer didn’t create a sense of urgency!  The creative didn’t give the recipient any driving need to click for more information.
  • You might have caught the words “insist” and “rush” mentioned a few times above.  This client did not plan on enough time to correctly test their offers.  If they wanted to do the final, official blast on Saturday then a test should have been sent on Saturday!  They messed with their control and were left wondering why their results didn’t mirror the Tuesday or Thursday results.  Maybe they should have done the balance on the following Tuesday, the day with the best results.  Either way, they didn’t give themselves the time to find out which was going to be more effective.
  • The offer was not time-sensitive.  They had no reason to send the promotion in this short timeframe except for a sense of “we have to spend this money this year so hurry up and get it done before 2012.”  Folks, that is a terrible reason to rush through a job and ignore basic Marketing 101 principles.

This client obviously wasn’t paying as close attention as I was in the 1990s.  If they had, perhaps they would have recalled the message from the Lemmonheads song, It’s About Time: you have to give yourself time.  In this case, give yourself time to:

  1. Test every aspect.  (Day of the week, time of day, subject line, creative, etc.)
  2. Accurately measure your results.  (Have been sent before requesting a report?)
  3. Be aware of the timing of your promotion.  (Any holidays or big events that your email is competing with for attention?)
  4. Create an offer with a sense of urgency.  (What is going to drive someone to click right now while they’re looking at your email?)
  5. Did I already mention “test every aspect”?  (Seriously.  Every.  Aspect.)
  6. Use the time you have wisely.  (If you find yourself rushing, ask why.  Is it necessary?)

Marketers must remember that email marketing is not some kind of magical marketing channel.  It is simply another marketing channel.  The channel may still be relatively new, but the rules marketers need to follow are not.

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How We’re Going to Save the World 50 Cents at a Time

Homeless Family

The need is overwhelming.

I think of myself as a charitable guy.  I volunteer regularly to raise money for a local organization.  I donate money when I hear there’s a need.

But this holiday season I heard more than my usual share of gut-wrenching stories of serious want and need.  I also witnessed generous projects and activities by friends, co-workers, clients, and local organizations.

The stories of families in need got under my skin.  It got me thinking.

I want to do more. I want to do more through my company by raising awareness and offering an opportunity for others to donate easily.

So starting today, each quote that we submit to our clients will include an optional charge of 50 cents per thousand to go to our 50 Cents at a Time Fund.  This is a totally optional donation – no one has to pay it.  But it will be there for every client to consider.

So, let’s say you place an order for 5,000 records.  If you chose to include the $.50/M charge, you’ll be billed an additional $2.50 that will go straight into the 50 Cents at a Time Fund.  If your order is for 100,000 records, your donation would be $50.  Easy,right?

And we will match every contribution.  So that $2.50 you donate is actually $5 with our matched donation.

Sure, that sounds like chump change to you and I who are sitting comfortably in our office.  But let me assure you that any amount is vital and greatly appreciated by too large of a percentage of our population.

And, really, it’s the cumulative effort that will make the greatest impact.  So the more people who decide, “Sure, what the heck” and add 50 cents per thousand to their order, the bigger the overall impact to the recipient.

So where is the 50 Cents at a Time Fund money going exactly?  Glad you asked.  We’ve put some real thought into selecting a different charity for each month.  There are some national causes that we believe strongly in, and there are several local organizations that we personally know are in desperate need of any financial aid.  The first three are:

January: Tyler Blain House. In honor of Poverty in America Awareness Month, we chose this homeless shelter just 25 minutes away from our office.  They offer an emergency shelter for up to 8 people, guiding them to gaining independence.  The funds we raise will go toward helping them keep the house heated, buy medicine, and get basic supplies like food, shampoo, diapers, and more.

February: Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Started by a 4 year old girl who was bravely battling a childhood cancer and wanted to help other kids who were fighting this disease too, this foundation is committed to finding a cure for childhood cancers.  The money raised goes toward cancer research as well as helping families with travel expenses for treatments.

March: Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation.  About 25 million Americans are living with diabetes.  This foundation was created to find the cure and to care for people who are suffering from life-threatening complications from the disease.  They fund researchers whose work has already provided substantial insight into the causes and provide services to people who are living with diabetes.

Stay tuned during the year – I will post updates of how much has been raised, and who we’ve selected to receive the money raised the following months.

Now if case you’re like me, you want to be sure that the money is going directly to the people who need it most – not right into the pocket of some CEO.  Rest assured that we’ve used Charity Navigator to research each of the national charities to make sure our money will be spent exactly how you expect it to be.

Please think about it. Please consider it.  Fifty cents a thousand isn’t going to break either one of us, but the cumulative effort will help a lot of people.

Okay, so we can’t save the entire world with this, but that’s not realistic, anyway.  We can save some little parts of our world and that has to count for something.

Photo credit: helixcat

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Listening to My Whiskers Grow

Shhhh ... ssshhhhh ... listen carefully ... you can almost hear ... well, start reading and you'll find out.

Last month I wore a pink belt.  Twelve times.

No, I was not having some sort of 1980’s fashion flashback and channeling my inner Crockett & Tubbs.  Colorblindness, like a thief in the night, did not steal my ability to dress myself in the morning*.   Nor was I experimenting with clothing from my wife’s side of the closet.

*My wife would tell you that ability never existed.

October, as you might recall, was National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and folks from all over did all sorts of things in order to raise awareness and raise funds to help fight this disease.  Good stuff, right?

Well, as it happened, I have been taking karate for a little over a year now in an attempt to get back into shape, increase my flexibility and … y’know … hit things.  So, at our dojo, in October, we all had the opportunity to, among other things, purchase pink belts and then, for the month of October, instead of wearing the belt of our respective ranks, we all wore pink belts.  Our dojo raised over $1,000 which was then donated to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock about an hour south of here.

Was it a gigantic get-a-wing-named-after-you type of contribution?  Of course not.  But, it was something.  And lots of other folks did all their little somethings and all those little somethings added up to millions and millions of dollars raised that were donated to a number of legitimate research organizations in your neck of the woods and mine.

This is an important point – there is a cumulative nature to all our individual efforts.  And, in the midst of the so-called Great Recession the need for our cumulative efforts is great – and it is not just limited to cancer research.  We are headed into the holiday season … and winter.  There are folks out there who are in need.  Serious not-enough-food-in-the-cupboard, not-enough-fuel-for heat need.

At this point you might be asking, “Tim, what’s your point?  And, further, what does this have to do with you whiskers?”

As always, Gentle Reader, I am glad you asked!

I have two points:

The first is this:  I know things are tough right now for a lot of businesses out there and things are tough for even the people who do have steady, gainful employment.  But, remember, as tough as it might be for you there’s probably someone out there who would gladly trade places with your version of tough.

The second is this:  Do something.  Anything. Donate something to some worthy cause.  Money?  Sure, great – do that – all kinds of worthy organizations need financial support.  Food?  Yes!  Call your local food bank.  They need your help.  Even if all you can donate is one jar of peanut butter, do it.  Remember, it’s not just you donating something – it’s all of us donating something.  Time?  Oh, here’s the big one – time.  We’re all short on time.  It’s okay.  Find an hour somewhere.  Volunteer.  You’re good people. The world needs good people.

I will probably have more to say on this in later posts.  And, yes, you are correct, this post has almost nothing to do with direct marketing.

And, finally, my whiskers:  If you poke around this site you’ll note that I am usually a whiskered guy.  More-or-less have been since I was fifteen or so.

As you might have noticed up at the top of the page, I am currently (temporarily) not whiskered.  That’s right – I shaved on November 2nd.  So I could grow a new mustache.

Raising awareness for men’s health (and prostate cancer, specifically) has never been easier for you.  This month turned into Movember:

During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces, in the US and around the world. With their Mo’s, these men raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men.

See?  Wasn’t that easy?  Now you are even more aware.  And, all you have to do is listen to my whiskers grow.  Well, that, and, if you are so moved, make a donation at my Movember page.  Go ahead!  Click the link.  Learn some more.  Donate.

Remember, we are good people and we all work hard, but, we can always help somehow.  Somewhere.  Some way.

How do you give?  Let us know below!

Posted in Fundraising | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Of Jelly Donuts and Junk Mail

Did one of our Presidents claim he was a jelly donut? Of course not! Is targeted direct mail advertising junk? Of course not!

The story goes that when John Kennedy made his famous speech in Berlin back in 1963 he made a grammatical error – a Cold War show of solidarity turned confectionery.  Most of us are familiar with the speech, either through memory or memory of a high school history class, and its most dramatic moment:

“Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum ['I am a Roman citizen']. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’ …  All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”

Over time some have suggested JFK should have said “Ich Bin Berliner!” (“I am a Berliner” – which would have been correct had Kennedy actually been from Berlin instead of Boston.)  The other bit of confusion arises from the name of a particular jelly-filled pastry known in Germany (but outside of Berlin) as a Berliner.

However, since Kennedy was speaking metaphorically … well … he really meant … well … he didn’t say he was a jelly donut, okay?

Anyway, as is sometimes the case the legend is far more entertaining than the reality and this one has gained some legs over the years.  All you have to do is Google “JFK jelly donut” and you get about 858,000 results.  I am willing to bet a college student could write a reasonably interesting and entertaining paper on exactly why we as a culture would have so much fun with this.

But, I didn’t come here today to write about jelly donuts.  I came to write about junk mail.  Or, better still, I came to write about the fiction that is junk mail and the genesis of direct mail advertising’s much maligned name.  You want an urban legend with legs?  Google “junk mail” – that’s 73,500,000 results.  (I’ll spare you the search:  “junk mail jelly donuts” gets you 895,000 results.  I’d imagine that would also make for an interesting college paper – but, since college ended over 20 years ago for me I’m off the hook.)

Here at the Completely Interesting Direct Marketing Blog we have discussed at length direct marketing and direct mail’s general awesomeness.  So let us begin with this in mind:  Direct mail remains the most cost-effective means of reaching your targeted audience. Period.  It is fact.

However, because direct marketing and direct mail are by their very nature targeted messages for a specific product or service sent to a specific (targeted!!!) audience, the idea of “direct mail” doesn’t have a means by which it can manage its message.  Think about how other media can promote itself:

  • Radio can talk about radio on the radio. (Seriously – have you ever listened to a Howard Stern show?  Back when I listened to him in the 90s, Howard spent the first 25 minutes of his show talking about … Howard!)
  • Television can devote all kinds of time to talking about television.  (30 Rock, anyone?)  The evening news shows will devote whole segments to how the evening news covers … the evening news!
  • Newspapers can run front-page stories about how they cover the news.

Make no mistake about it – radio, television, and newspapers may sound and look like they are in the business of entertaining or informing the general public, but, that’s really a myth, too.

Radio and television and newspapers are in the business of getting people to listen to or look at the messages from their paid sponsors.  Right?  These things exist to get people to watch commercials. The music and the shows and the news and the comics and the sports pages are all there with one thing in mind – attract eyeballs to the ads.  The more eyeballs seeing the ads mean more advertising revenue which means more profits.

Allow me to step sideways for a moment. I am a capitalist.  I love profit.  I am not saying radio, television, and newspapers are bad entities for wanting to make a profit.  Profit good.  Profit pays the bills.  Profit employs people.  Profit makes it work.  I’m all for it.  And I’ll go a step further – I read newspapers and magazines and occasionally watch television, but, I’ll bet most of you are just like me in that you are putting up with the commercials and ads in order to enjoy the content (the music, the shows, the news, whatever).  No one tunes in at 8:00 every night to watch the commercials. Yet, “junk commercials” is not part of our national vernacular.

Consider this:  Each of these media outlets is competing with other outlets for limited advertising dollars (if you’ll recall from Accounting 101, the concept of opportunity cost is a dollar spent in one manner is a dollar you can’t spend somewhere else).

So newspapers are competing with other newspapers and radio and TV and any other manner of paid advertising for business.  It’s the same for all the other types, too.  Makes sense, right?  Of course it does.

Direct mail falls into this mix. Direct mail competes with radio, television, newspapers, and magazines for the dollars of advertisers.

Now, no business in its right mind is going to send out a direct mail piece bashing newspaper advertising, for instance, because, well, that’d just be foolish.  A business will send out a direct mail piece advertising … itself!  That’s just smart!

But, here is where things get devious. The other media outlets can spend a little time here-and-there bashing direct mail.  Newspapers, in particular, spilled a lot of ink back in the 1950s as they faced a two-pronged attack with both the dawn of commercial television as a viable means of local advertising as well as the advent of simplified bulk mail rules.

In the course of ten years – between 1947 and 1957 – spending on direct mail increased almost 2.5 times and newspapers saw this (probably rightly so) as a threat to their bottom line.  So what did newspapers do?

Let’s turn to Richard Kielbowicz’s paper entitled Origins of the Junk-Mail Controversy: A
Media Battle over Advertising and Postal Policy
.  Page 8 explains exactly what the newspapers did:

“Newspapers retaliated by attacking direct mail’s value in print and before postal ratemakers, wielding the term “junk mail” regularly for the first time. In their campaign to scuttle the patron~mail experiment, newspapers devised several arguments that were later generalized for a continuing assault on all direct mail advertising. Some points made by the press were false, others were misleading, and all were expressed publicly without informing readers that newspapers stood to gain financially from a diminished direct mail industry.”

In technical terms, this was a total hack job and the hack job has continued unabated for over fifty years.  You don’t have to go back that far, either.

Back in 2003, the DMA was welcomed to Orlando for its annual conference with this headline from the Orlando Sentinel:  Spammers, Telemarketers Share Strategies.  It should go without saying (but, I will say it anyway) spamming has no part in the mission of the DMA and its members.

Also lost on the *ahem* reporter of this piece was the fact that the Orlando Sentinel at that time used telemarketing in order to build it’s subscriber base.  But, again, the fiction remains more entertaining than the reality.

We as direct marketers simply cannot take the myths spread by our self-promoting competitors seriously.  We have to remember we bring value to our customers and we help our customers bring value to their customers.  Junk mail is a myth. Businesses promoting themselves to create profit – profit that can then be turned into jobs and a healthy economy – that is the reality.

So, my fellow marketers, today, in the world of advertising, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Direct Marketer!”  All marketers, wherever they may live, need to be a Direct Marketer, and, therefore, as a business man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Direct Marketer!

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Moneyball and Database Marketing: The Secret

Former prospect, current General Manager or Rosarch Test image? Depends on who is looking.

Okay, so, I was going to do a blog post on jelly donuts and junk mail, but, in the mean time, a colleague forwarded me a link to an article by Jim Wheaton titled, How Database Marketing Can Turn Companies Around, and asked me if I have ever read (or seen the new movie starring that hunky Brad Pitt) Moneyball.

Really, the correct question was not had I read Moneyball.  A correct question would have been something along the lines of had I ever spent 45 minutes defending the premise of Moneyball.  And had I had that 45 minute argument multiple times.  The answer, as you might gather is, of course I had!

But, that’s not what I answered.  Instead I replied to her – before I looked at the article: “I have, and I wonder if whoever wrote this article made the correct conclusions about Moneyball.”

Among many baseball fans the subject of Moneyball is like some weird combination of religion and politics.  Friends should not discuss these topics, but, when they do, expect fireworks, because, even though everyone read or saw the same thing, there is a high likelihood they have interpreted it differently.  Billy Beane has become baseball’s Rosarch Test.

Fear not, Gentle Reader, as I will now help you along to a correct interpretation of both premise of the book and the above mentioned article about it.  You’re welcome!

The author states:

“Moneyball,” the current hit movie based on Michael Lewis’ 2003 book by the same name, is a story that has two important lessons for direct and database marketers.

First, there is big money to be made by those whose decision making is informed by the best data and most sophisticated analysis of that data.

Second, in order to stay ahead of the competition, you need to keep improving the quality of the data that you are analyzing, and the sophistication of the analysis itself.

So far, so good.  The writer continues to describe how the plucky, underdog, small-market A’s stayed ultra-competitive with larger market teams – and then goes on to tell us how they found their way – through the power of data.  And that is where things go awry.

The secret, as put into practice by general manager Billy Beane, is to hire a data miner and put him to work crunching the numbers. Billy collaborates closely with the data miner and, in fact, confers with his quantitative expert every time a decision has to be made.

NO!  The secret of Moneyball – and it’s no secret at all because both Beane and Michael Lewis say as much more than a few times in the book – is the A’s used the data in order to find inefficiencies in the market.  They looked for statistics that had a high correlation to success (in Beane’s case, his late 1990s/early 2000s teams already had great pitching – he needed to generate runs – so, in this case, he was looking for statistics that had a high correlation to scoring runs) that were undervalued by the market.

At the time, batting average, home runs, and runs-batted-in were stats that were highly (and sometimes over-) valued.  He found (again, at that time) that on-base percentage was undervalued in the market – in other words, he could get a guy who had a higher than average OBP (and some power), but who had a low batting average, cheaper than he could get a guy who had a high batting average – and, the numbers bore out (but, I will not bore you out with the numbers) this argument as those A’s teams scored a lot of runs.  Great stuff.

And then other teams caught on and soon everyone was talking about OBP and all that – and next thing you know, that particular statistic was no longer undervalued – so there was no competitive advantage to seeking high OBP guys because they were likely as pricey as the old high BA/HR/RBI guys.  By the late 2000s the new inefficiency (tapped into by Tampa Bay – as another little guy on the block attempting to compete with the big boys) was run prevention.

So, it would drive me crazy when talking about Moneyball with baseball guys and they would sum it up by saying “Oh, you think everybody needs big, slow guys who get on base and hit home runs.”  No.  No and NOOOO!!!  You need general managers and front office executives who know how to find market inefficiencies. (And I’ll stop there with the baseball.)

Now, about the rest of Mr. Wheaton’s article – the questions he poses are all good questions:

Do you have a best-practices marketing database?

Do you have top-notch analytical professionals on staff or on retainer, who work closely with the marketing and creative teams?

If you have top-notch analytical professionals on staff or on retainer, are they “invited to the table” when management discusses important strategic and tactical issues?

Are you always looking for new ways to improve your marketing database?

The trouble here is if you are really looking to go all Moneyball and actually tap into the secret you need not just good marketing data and/or good data analysts – you need to find different ways of looking at the data.

You need to find something in your data that has value that your competitors, given the same /similar data would not recognize as having that same value.  In other words, can you find something within your data that has high value that your competitors undervalue?

Well, can you?!!

[Photo credit: Gem Mint Ten]

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What Did You Expect?!! A Cautionary Tale of Baseball, Email Marketing, and the Supposed Death of Direct Mail.

The 2011 Red Sox were not the 1927 Yankees. E-mail marketing as your sole means of new client acquisition is not effective marketing.

As I promised back in late August, I am due for a full fledged rant on email marketing and here it is.

But, I would like to ask a ginormous favor from you, Awesome Direct Marketer, before we get into this informative, possibly controversial, but always completely interesting blog post – I ask – *sniff* – that you pause for just a moment of silence in remembrance of The Championship Season That Was Not for my Boston Red Sox.

[Insert just a moment of silence here.]

Okay, now that we have that out of the way – let’s talk about managing expectations.  And, let’s begin with … the 2011 Boston Red Sox.  (And, for all you non-sports fans out there, I’ll be brief, I promise!*)

*How brief?  I just edited out 250 words of non-brevity.

At various points of 2011, the expectations for the 2011 Red Sox, according to pundits, were as follows:

  1. Off-season/Spring Training: This team may be the second coming of the 1927 New York Yankees!!!
  2. After they got off to a 2-10 start: This team is going to be lucky to win 80 games.
  3. After they went on an 81-42 tear after the tough start: They may not be second coming of the ’27 Yankees, but they are still going to win 100 games.  (100 wins, for you non-baseball fans is a lot of wins in a season)

The reality ended up being somewhere in the middle – 90 wins, no playoffs and a lot of disappointment.  Reality didn’t match up to any of the expectations.

Now you may be asking, “What might this have to do with email marketing or the supposed death of direct mail?”  Well, I’m glad you asked!

We hear a lot these days about the power of email marketing and, yes, email marketing has a fair amount of potential when used correctly.  Unfortunately, based on a lot of the phone calls I receive there are some particularly unrealistic expectations out there.

It is important to keep in mind we in the list business are in the business of helping you find new customers.  We are all about client acquisition.  Acquisition is tricky business, as you probably already know.  Sure, there are plenty of companies out there who have the benefit of a strong brand, worldwide name recognition, or some ubiquitous product – y’know, those Fortune 500-y types.  Hey, it’s great stuff if you have it.

The thing is, there are something like ten or eleven million businesses out there in the country and only 500 get to be Fortune 500-y, so all the rest – like probably you and definitely me – are not exactly household brands.  So we have to put in some effort to get the word out about our spectacular company and attract new customers.

There are a lot of different ways to reach people these days, and you might get caught up in a surge of digital age excitement and start believing that email marketing is the fastest and most cost effective method to acquire new customers.

I’ll wait for you to come back down to earth … and now we can have a rational, realistic talk about email marketing.

First things first – let’s set some ground rules:

  1. This post is about email marketing as a means of new customer acquisition – not client retention.  Using email is fabulous for client retention – it’s a cost effective method for keeping your company’s products and services at the forefront of your client’s minds on a regular basis.  If you aren’t using email marketing to stay in touch with your current clients, you should probably re-evaluate your marketing priorities.  Right now.
  2. Most people are smart enough to know the Minister of Agriculture from Kerschplakistan has not really sought you out in order to help him move $5,000,000 dollars into an American bank account.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive into this idea of email marketing as the sole means of your new client acquisition.  First, what kind of audience are you looking to reach?

If you are looking to reach every household in a 30 mile radius around a new restaurant, or some other very broad generic audience – cool beans, email marketing may be a low-cost marketing option for you with a decent ROI.

But, then you are not really doing targeted direct marketing.  My guess is that most of us look at our professional audience in two ways:  The people who are most likely to be interested in our product or service and everyone else.  Just like saturation direct mail will work for a very narrow set of marketers, saturation email will work for a very narrow set of marketers.  Then there are the rest of us.

And the rest of us need to realize that relying solely on email marketing for new client acquisition is probably a very big mistake.  Okay, I never speak in absolutes, so I left a teeny-tiny bit of wiggle room for the inevitable, “But I have second cousin who only uses email and gets a 28% response every time.”  Sure.  And the 2012 Sox are a shoe-in for the World Series.

Let’s manage some expectations, shall we?  When you send out an email promotion to people who have probably never heard of you or your company, your offer has to compete for attention with all manner of emails like forwarded jokes, Nigerian royalty, discounted-today-only specials, newsletters from those smart companies who are on the ball, Kerschplakistani Agriculture Ministers, electronic bill notifications, and offers to increase or decrease the size of various part of one’s body … not to mention all the emails the person is actually hoping to receive from friends, family, and co-workers.

Nearly 300 billion emails are sent every day.  Yours is just another one in the mix, waiting to be deleted by an overwhelmed end user who doesn’t have the time to learn more about a company that they’ve never heard of before.  Spam has trained people to delete emails from companies they don’t recognize.

I know, I know – you still feel a gravitational pull toward email marketing.  And, believe it or not, I’m not saying don’t use it.  I’m saying use it wisely.  Use it in conjunction with another channel.  First, get your name in front of your intelligently targeted audience with a mail piece.

“But,” I hear you thinking, “isn’t direct mail dead?

No, for the savvy marketer, direct mail is very much still alive and kicking.  I’m not the only voice in the wilderness here either.  Brian Fetherstonhaugh, the Chairman, CEO, and all-around Big Cheese at OgilvyOne Worldwide reminded people just this week that direct mail still has four strengths (massive strengths!) - Endurance, Aquisition, Impact, and Sense.

Use those strengths to your advantage.  Get your targeted audience familiar with your brand with direct mail first. Send more than one piece.  And then – without even having to use a gimmicky subject line – your email will stand out when it’s received because they’ll recognize your company.  You have already established yourself as a company of importance by building up to email correspondence.

Of course, while we’re still thinking about managing expectations, we should discuss how your sensibly targeted emails are going to be more pricey than the generic reach-every-blessed-person emails – there’s no way around it.  Targeting costs money because it has real value.  So don’t be fooled by people who say email marketing is way more cost effective than direct mail – when it comes down to it, the two channels are closer in cost than you might think.

Still thinking of going email-only for acquisition?

“Consistently, research and in-market results prove that printed messages like direct mail last longer than digital ones.”

I have two words for you:  think again.

Let me explain.  No, there is too much. Let me sum up:  The 2011 Sawx failed to live up to expectations.  No foreign despot is ever going to send you an e-mail offering you millions if you’d just help him out.  Using only e-mail for your new client acquisition is a flawed strategy.

Posted in direct marketing, response rates | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments